How To Upgrade Your Water, Coffee, Tea And More With Spices

Easy ways to elevate humble drinks from spice master Lior Lev Sercarz

Lior Lev Sercarz's father, grandfather and great-grandfather were diamond dealers, but sparkly rocks weren't young Lior's thing. Instead, he dug his hands into the fragrant world of spices. Raised in Israel, the classically trained chef first found culinary inspiration while working at a trout-smoking factory. At the end of a long day, he'd grill fish for the crew and grab whatever he had on hand—garlic powder, chiles, paprika—to enhance the meal. He's come a long way since that muddy pond, but he still recalls those early days of grabbing fistfuls of rosemary and lavender in Galilee.

The busy spice blender recently launched his third collaboration with Eric Ripert, his 23rd biscuit series called Savoring Time, and he's completed his second book, The Spice Companion, which will be out in fall 2016.

We asked Sercarz for tips on how we can spice up the most basic drinks. Here's what he had to say:

Coffee and Tea: A lot of us put sugar in our coffee, but here's how you can fake your palate into thinking something is sweet without the white stuff. "Peppery notes create numbness on the palate. That's how I came to that notion of how spices can mimic sugar notes," Sercarz says. He suggests adding small amounts of ginger to trick your taste buds into thinking they're buzzing on something. Add cinnamon, clove and allspice, and the sweet smell will trick your brain into thinking it's drinking something sweet.

Water: Sercarz prompts us to throw some cinnamon, star anise and nutmeg into a French press with hot water. If you don't finish it with your breakfast, you can chill it and drink it later. Want something savory? Add ginger to your bottled water, or try rosemary, basil, tarragon or stems of fennel. If you put them straight into a mug, we suggest first bundling them into a muslin bag. Easier to strain, plus no unsightly green flecks in your teeth.

Milk: Just in time for cold weather and the uptick in your oatmeal consumption that follows, this recipe for infusing milk is stupid easy. Warm a pot of milk and add cinnamon sticks or vanilla. If you have a leftover vanilla bean, cut it open, scrape it and add the seeds to your milk. Throw the remaining bean pod into your sugar to flavor it, or dry the vanilla bean, grind it and add it as is to your hot chocolate or oatmeal. Other spices to toss in: nutmeg, clove and star anise.

Herbs: Have a handful of herbs that are going limp? Lay them out on a piece of parchment paper on a sheet pan and set them on your kitchen counter to dry. Want to speed up the process? Set them near a sunny window. Once the herbs are dry, you can place them into muslin bags and brew your own special water.

Citrus: Sercarz is a big fan of drying lemon and lime peels. "Grab a vegetable peeler, which will give you a nice thin layer, and let the peels dry overnight on parchment paper. You can keep it whole, grind it or granulate it. You'll have great dried citrus that you can use anytime," Sercarz says. Another secret infusing weapon? Lemon myrtle, which, he assures us, is more lemon than lemon.

Sercarz says spices generally keep for one to two years. Kitchen tip: Write the date on the label as soon as you get it. Visit La Boîte to sign up for a spice-blending class or to buy a few fancy jars. Looking for something closer to home? His supermarket brand of choice is Frontier Co-Op spices, which you can find at your local Whole Foods Market.